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The Sale of Government Records Is Illegal!

The sale of public records is an issue that has become problematic in recent years, as an increasing number of government records from federal, state, and local governments are being sold by private individuals and through online auctions, rather than remaining in the ownership of the public as ordained by law. While the buying and selling of records of private individuals and institutions is permissible on the open market, the buying and selling of government records is not.

Documents designated as public records contain a wealth of invaluable information related to governmental actions that may be of concern to citizens of the commonwealth. The removal of these documents from public access hinders the ability of the general public to understand the consequences of actions by government agencies. This disrupts a key element of government accountability and unfairly takes useful historical resources out of the public's reach. A statement by the Council of State Archivists stresses that these records "should remain where they are available for public inspection."

The Code of Virginia, Title 42.1, Chapter 7 (the Virginia Public Records Act), defines public records as "recorded information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency, or employee of an agency." This includes records of government agencies at both the state and local levels that document the activities of public and government business. The Virginia Public Records Act further forbids the separation of any public record from public ownership and gives the Librarian of Virginia, the State Archivist, or any public official charged with the care of these documents the ability to petition the appropriate judicial authority for its return.

This link provides examples of records required by law to be held by the Commonwealth of Virginia or local government that recently appeared for public auction, but have been returned to the appropriate government agency.

Despite the importance of keeping these historically significant documents accessible to the public, many records have been advertised for sale between private parties in contravention of the Virginia Public Records Act. If you become aware of any unlawful sale of government records, or if you have questions related to the sale of government records, please e-mail the State Archivist or call the Archival and Records Management Services Division at 804-692-3600. We will do our best to determine whether the records are indeed official government records and advise appropriate action.

Revised 8/2006

Additional Resources